When I heard that George Lee Andrews was leaving Phantom after 9,382 performances, I assumed it was because he was ready to retire. He's 68, has been in the show for 23 years...it would make sense if he was ready to move on.
Turns out, he wasn't ready to move on. Only the producers were. In an attempt to "keep the show fresh," they're cutting the last original cast member.
The man had a good run, no doubt. Keeping any job for that long is an accomplishment, let alone on Broadway in the highest grossing show in Broadway history. A good run! But still...can't the man leave on his own terms? Did they have to cut him? Really?
I don't think there's any evidence that his performance was lacking. By all accounts, the man worked hard to make sure he was fully present every night. Sure, he's just two years younger than Dick Cheney, and you're not the same at 68 as you were at 58 (let alone 48), but you can't fire somebody just because they're old, can you?
I don't actually know. Do you? I'm sure Equity has some kind of rule about it. If you're cast in a Broadway show as a young lover, and a few years go by, are the producers allowed to replace you even if you maintain the same weight and size as you were before? That wouldnt be too hard to believe. But in the case of George Lee Andrews, I think he plays an older character anyway. I understand if a girl playing little orphan Annie becomes too old to be little orphan Annie. But what if John Culum is playing the part of "old man" in a Broadway show? Is he ever going to be too old? I suppose it's possible. So when, exactly, does he become too old?
Obviously Cameron Mackintosh didn't consult me before he made his decision, but it seems like a curious thing. If an actor has been fine for the last 9,382 performances...why change it now? I don't think they need to keep him just because he's been around since the beginning, but if he can still do the job, why stop him?
Anyway, it's a strange problem that we'll likely never have again.